A team of Chinese soldiers is about to complete its third landmine sweeping mission on the Sino-Vietnam border, aiming to meet the 2008 deadline for border demarcation agreed upon by both countries in 2005, said Lt. Col. Fu Xiutang.
When the People's Liberation Army (PLA) undertook its first de-mining campaign in the early 1990s, Fu was a PLA squad leader. Now he is deputy regiment commander of the Yunnan Provincial Military Command on the country's southwestern border with Vietnam.
"Landmine sweeping makes me a real army man," he said.
Led by Fu, a mine-sweeping team is conducting the country's third large-scale mission on the Sino-Vietnamese border, clearing landmines and explosives left over from confrontations during 1979 to 1989.
In that period, at least 10,000 landmines were laid within a 3km radius of the Friendship Pass on the border, according to the provincial military area command.
Vietnam and China normalized relations in 1990. In November 2005, they agreed to settle demarcation of the border by 2008. Chinese troops have been ordered by PLA headquarters to step up mine clearing.
The first two campaigns were conducted from 1992 to 1994 and 1997 to 1999. The third campaign, which began in 2005, was aimed at areas around prospective boundary markers to pave the way for a complete boundary settlement before the end of 2008, said Sun Shijun, an instructor of a de-mining team of the frontier defense regiment under the Yunnan Provincial Military Command.
Thanks to the efforts of de-mining soldiers, the two countries are about to celebrate the finale of their border demarcation. Last week, Vietnam marked the establishment of the 1,116th boundary monument on the Sino-Vietnam border. China has set up 1,117 boundary marks "of large size and national emblems of the two countries," the Vietnam News Agency has reported.
"No one really knows how many mines are buried on the border," said Fu, although the number has been estimated to be as high as 2million.
In a joint statement in 2005, China and Vietnam pledged to make the border a "peaceful and friendly" one with long-term stability. But that goal has been threatened by landmines and explosives.
Since 1979, almost 6,000 Chinese in Wenshan Prefecture along the border died or were injured by landmines, according to the local government. No figures were available on Vietnamese casualties.
According to the headquarters of the PLA Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Regional Military Area Command, China cleared 130,000 sq km with more than 6,800 landmines along the Friendship Pass. That eliminated threats to the local civilians, many of whom lost limbs or even lives when they crossed the border to trade with the Vietnamese.
Sharen Village in the prefecture's Funing County is internationally known as a landmine-ridden village. Most of the 87villagers have lost one or both legs to landmines.